Qu’est-ce que tu fais dans la vie?
“What do you do for a living?”
One of the things I enjoy about the Internet is the opportunity to brush up my high school French by cyber-chatting with correspondents in France and in French-speaking parts of Europe and Canada. But when my chat room buddy in Paris asked me for my job description, I was suddenly at a loss as to the proper French equivalent of “speechwriter.”
At first, I thought that there might be a French expression comparable to literary ghost, so I tried auteur fantôme. I had no luck with that. Worse, I may have given him the impression that I wrote gothic novels.
Then I thought of saying that I did public relations work, but je fais la publicité didn’t seem any more descriptive of my actual job. He might think that I was in advertising.
In desperation, I descended to the most literal level: j’écris des addresses publiques pour les autres. “I write speeches for other people.”
Plaintively, I inquired if there was, peut-être, a precise Gallic equivalent to “speechwriter.”
There was indeed, the gentleman in Paris informed me, crisply: Bien sur! Tu es un rédacteur de discours.
Well! Once again I had to hand it to the civilized French. The nation that produced the sophisticated comedies of Moliére, the classical tragedies of Corneille and Racine, the romantic epics of Victor Hugo and the panache of Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac had done it again—turned prose into poetry.
Rédacteur de discours is, literally, “speechwriter.” But what eminence, what elegance, what savoir faire our occupational title acquires when it is translated into French.
The French definition of the term actually imputes a higher status to our profession: Cette profession est généralement associée à la fonction de chef d’Etat. “This profession is generally associated with the position of a chief of state.”
And why not? Most of us do write for important people, including chiefs of state. Why shouldn’t we plume ourselves a bit?
So when the time comes for me to order business cards again, I might just have them engraved, “Hal Gordon, Rédacteur de Discours.” It not only sounds better in French, it might even let me get away with charging more for my services.
Hal Gordon is a freelance rédacteur de discours based in Houston, TX. www.ringingwords.com